Alex Auld Breaks Down Canucks Crease Keys
Alex Auld played 237 NHL games over a 12-year career that included time with nine different teams, and spent last season in Austria, where his goaltending coach was Francois Allaire, before retiring this summer. Tired of the nomadic lifestyle and eager to settle his young family in one spot and focus more on his wife Melanie’s highly acclaimed jewelry business, Auld returned to Vancouver, where he played four seasons for the Canucks and was named MVP in 2005-06.
Fortunately for us, Auld will always be a goalie at heart, and with an eye to keeping himself in the game has already done some TV work with Sportsnet and agreed to share his thoughts here at InGoal Magazine. A true student of goaltending, Auld has a variety NHL experiences and has spent time working with a long list of well-regarded goalie coaches, so we are thrilled to have him on board. Be sure to follow Auld on Twitter for more insights, and to check out his wife’s jewelry.
Enjoy his first contribution on playing goal in Vancouver and for John Tortorella, both things that Auld can speak about from personal experience:
Since I now live back in Vancouver, I find the Canucks goaltending situation utterly fascinating.
The seemingly endless drama in the Canucks crease has filled many articles for quite some time now, so I’m not going to waste anytime on background here.
Everyone reading this already knows the story, so here’s my take on a couple of interesting goalie points heading into Canucks camp:
1. How will Roberto Luongo start the season?
Luongo is traditionally a slow starter. Can he, or the team for that matter, afford a slow start this season from a PR point of view?
I really believe Roberto is poised for a bounce back season. He’s too good and too proud for that not to happen. However, I do think it’s important he gets off to a good start or it could get ugly on the West Coast.
One of the biggest keys for him to come out of the gate on top of his game is getting lots of technical practice time early in camp.
While there’s no way he could replicate the eight weeks he spent with Francois Allaire during the lockout before last season, which also happened to be be of his career-best starts, hopefully he’s already been working with one or more of his trusted goalie coaches throughout the summer. This intense technical work will not only get the summer rust out of his game, it will also allow his instincts to take over.
Goalie-specific drills instantly give a goalie confidence due to the controlled nature of the drills. With a level of technical comfort his instincts will then be able to really shine. Roberto’s feel for the game – or his reads – are crucial to his play. When he’s on top of his game, his reads are among the best in the game. But world-class reads don’t mean anything if the goalie doesn’t trust them. He needs to trust what he’s seeing on the ice and let his superior instinct take over.
I believe that having a structured and demanding coach will only help Luongo find his game early in the season. John Tortorella, who I played for briefly with the New York Rangers, wants his teams to be hard to play against and to be assertive defensively. He is a great communicator who will quickly have guys understanding where to be and what their job is away from the puck. This is great for a goalie because there is less confusion and more structure in your zone.
2. Who will the Luongo’s partner be and what role will he have?
Most people believe that if he’s healthy and playing well, the second goalie position will go to Eddie Lack. However, he is coming back from major hip surgery and has been out of game action for nine months. Joacim Eriksson is the new kid on the block, signing as a free agent after leading Skeleftea to the title last season in the top Swedish league. He showed in last year’s postseason that he can get red hot so expect him to fight for the job with his fellow Swede .
I know little about the two and don’t want to get into a discussion about who should stay – to me, the role a No.2 ends up playing is more intriguing.
While playing for Tortorella in New York, he told me how he believes in only playing his starter 60 to 65 games to keep him fresh for the postseason. He came to that theory by looking at the most recent Stanley Cup champions and realizing that very few, if any, had a goalie who played virtually every night.
Rangers’ goalie coach Benoit Allaire pointed this out to Tortorella and was able to convince him this was a smart approach to keep Henrik Lundqvist well rested and sharp. As a result, the team signed veteran Martin Biron to play alongside Hank. This allowed them to rest Lundqvist strategically, maximizing his recovery.
Having the luxury of a backup that gives you a chance to win every night worked well in New York for Torts, so it will be interesting to watch this season how the time split between the goalies develops. Will Luongo be forced to play 65 plus games, or will one of the young Swedes gain enough trust from the coaches to play a quarter of the games or more?
Another side note on rest for Luongo is the style and length of practice with Torts.
Although his practices are intense, they tend to be on the short side. The average practice time when I played for the Rangers was under 45 minutes. The coach expects max intensity during that time, but the guys are never out there too long. This will allow plenty of time, either before or after practice, for the goalies to get lots of quality work in with Rollie Melanson, which as mentioned above is crucial for Roberto and very important for a young developing goaltender as well.
3. And finally what will the Twitter presence be like in the Canucks crease?
The new coach has already made it clear he feels Twitter is extremely narcissistic and doesn’t like his players being on Twitter, but understands it’s a part of life for a modern day athlete. Luongo, on the other hand, used social media famously last season to show a different side of his personality and the fans embraced it.
Many of the Canucks take to Twitter regularly to discuss various topics. Lack has also become quite popular earning recognition as a “must-follow” player, at least among Canucks fans. It will be interesting to see if Roberto keeps up with his Twitter persona or backs off a bit, knowing that his coach isn’t exactly thrilled with it.
Maybe Roberto’s foray into social media last season was a sort of coping mechanism, helping him deal with what must have been a very difficult situation. Perhaps it was simply just something to fill all his newfound spare time during his least busy winter in ages.
There’s also the chance that this is the new him, a player who is comfortable showing his fans, and his haters a closer look at who he is.
For a goaltender in this town, that’s very brave.